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# Friday, 29 January 2016
RootsTech Genealogy Classes You Can Watch FREE From Home
Posted by Diane

If it seems like half the genealogy world is going to Salt Lake City next week, here's why: FamilySearch's big, bustling RootsTech conference is happening Feb. 3-6, 2016.
  • more than 200 genealogy classes

  • big-name keynote speakers including presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and broadcaster and StoryCorps founder David Isay

  • an expo hall with hundreds of exhibitors, a Demo Theater, a Cyber Cafe, a Media Hub and "Innovation Alley"

  • an Innovator Summit for vendors and developers on Feb. 3

  • a free Family Discovery Day Saturday, Feb. 6, for LDS families with children (age 8 and up)

  • side events and activities, including a kick-off concert Thursday night

  • more than 20,000 registered attendees
If you're going, stop by the Genealogy Gems Think Tank in exhibit hall booth 1230 for free mini-sessions and giveaways from Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems, Diahann Southard of Your DNA Guide, and more experts you know from the pages of Family Tree Magazine. Here's a Think Tank class schedule and a prize drawing entry you can print out and have ready to submit.

Not going to RootsTech? You still can be part of the family history learning: RootsTech will livestream 15 classes and sessions on its website—for free. This includes the opening session each day plus classes such as "Seven Unique Technologies for Genealogy Discovery" and "Homespun and Calico: Researching Our Foremothers." 

View the RootsTech livestreaming schedule and tips here. Remember, the times are for the Mountain Time Zone. You'll need to translate them to your local time zone. (The 15 sessions will be available on the RootsTech website for a limited time.)

Also check out our own Family Tree University Virtual Conference, March 11-13, which has video classes you can download to keep, plus live chats and an exclusive message board so you can fully participate from home.

Friday, 29 January 2016 12:11:12 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 27 January 2016
"Finding Your Roots": Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and Bill Hader
Posted by Diane

The family trees of three funny men were the focus of this week's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.": "Saturday Night Live" cast member Bill Hader, late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, and television writer and actor Norman Lear (who's going strong at age 90).

Gates' contrasted each guest's humorous outlook with the sadness in his family tree. Here are the highlights (or maybe I should say lowlights):
  • Jimmy Kimmel: Usually the show waits until the end to get into DNA, but Your Genetic Genealogist blogger Cece Moore appeared early on to explain how DNA testing could reveal whether Kimmel's great-grandfather Frank Kimmel was the biological child of German immigrants Christian Kümmel and Teresa Stockhausen. They were married six years after Frank was born and their obituaries don't acknowledge him. Moore compared the autosomal DNA of a known Stockhausen descendant, a known descendant of both Teresa and Frank, and Jimmy Kimmel's father. Results showed Frank was the child of Christian and another woman. Researchers weren't able to learn why he was estranged from his parents.
Kimmel's mother's family immigrated from Southern Italy and settled on New York City's crowded Lower East Side of  (home to the wonderful Tenement Museum). His great-grandfather Vincenzo's brother and father died in an earthquake on the island of Ischia in 1883. Vincenzo immigrated in 1903, then sent for his wife and children nine months later.
  • Bill Hader: Hader's German-American great-great-grandfather served in World War I in France, where he wasn't seeing any action. He left his unit for the front lines, perhaps trying to prove his patriotism in the face of anti-German sentiment from home. Gates spent most of his time on Hader's mother's line, in which an ancestor from the conflict-filled border state of Missouri chose to enlist for the Union. His military pension record claimed he was going deaf as a result of "nasal catarrh" (a cold) contracted during the war. (Here's our guide to finding your ancestors' military pension records, and Antiquus Morbus is my favorite site for looking up archaic medical terms and causes of death.)

    The show's researchers traced Hader's mom's family to Revolutionary War soldier and slaveowner William Simms in Virginia, an indentured servant in Colonial Maryland, and all the way back to Charlemagne (a heritage that's not all that unusual, according to this article).
  • Norman Lear: Norman Lear's story had the most sadness to me, from his childhood spent partly without his father (who served prison time for a get-rich-quick scheme during the Great Depression) to his Jewish ancestors' impoverished, persecuted existence in Russia's Pale of Settlement. A series of pogroms there in the late 1800s and early 1900s prompted his family to emigrate to the United States. On his maternal side, Lear's grandfather left first, and sent for his grandmother ("Bubbe") and then-6-year-old mother in 1905. 
Lear's paternal great-grandfather died in the United States in 1902, and his tombstone inscription said he was a Levite, a descendant of the tribe of Levi. His DNA shows he indeed carries the genetic signature found among Levites.
You can watch the full episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website.

Genealogy TV | Italian roots | Jewish roots | Military records
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 15:36:37 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Researching Grandma's Baptism from Your Easy Chair
Posted by Diane

Genealogy research in Eastern Europe has come a long way in the past couple of decades. It used to be that locating church or civil registration records required a lot of effort and waiting. Your options for accessing records were 1) traveling to perform onsite research in archives, 2) spending a fortune to hire a professional to do the research for you, 3) writing a letter and hoping the registrar’s office or priest would understand and answer your quests or 4) hoping records for your ancestral village were included in those microfilmed by The Genealogical Society of Utah, which you could research at the Family History Library or order through a local Family History Center.

But now, has changed all that with its growing collection of church and civil registration records from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and other localities. Lisa A. Alzo, author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide shares three steps for beginning research on ancestors’ baptismal, marriage or death records from your easy chair using’s historical record collections:

  1. Get the name right. When searching collections from Eastern Europe, you need to know your ancestor’s name as it was originally spelled. You may know your ancestor as John, but would he instead be listed as Ján or János in registrations? My grandmother, for example, is listed as Erzsébet rather than Elizabeth. And how exactly is Fencsák spelled, anyway? Get as close to the original spelling as you can, and keep in mind which wildcards (characters like * and ?) to use to capture alternate spellings in your searches.

  2. Locate a collection. From’s home page, click the magnifying glass labeled Search, then click Browse All Published Collections. Choose Continental Europe and scroll to find the country you’re searching for (e.g., Slovakia). You can also type an ancestor’s name in the search boxes on the left-hand side, click on a map researching in a specific location or, if you know the name of the specific collection, start typing the first few letters of the name in the Collection title box; matching choices (such as Slovak, Church and Synagogue Books, 1592–1910, where I found my grandmother) will pop up underneath.

  3. Read the directions. When you get to the collection’s page, read the description carefully to understand what exactly is included. Click the Learn More button to access related FamilySearch Wiki articles on a particular collection or topic (e.g., this article on Slovak church and synagogue books). Remember that not all records are online—and some areas are not yet included—so in many instances, you’ll still need to consult the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilmed records, contact churches or archives, or consult with a professional for hard-to-get records and translation assistance. Make sure you sign up for a free FamilySearch account and follow the FamilySearch Blog or subscribe to the FamilySearch newsletter to receive notifications whenever the collections are added or updated.

Learn more tips and resources for doing Eastern Europe research from home by ordering a copy of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide today.

Czech roots | FamilySearch | Polish roots | Slovak roots | Vital Records
Tuesday, 26 January 2016 12:21:47 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 20 January 2016
"Finding Your Roots": Maya Rudolph, Shonda Rhimes and Keenan Ivory Wayans
Posted by Diane

Season 3, episode 3 of Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr. shared the family trees of actor Maya Rudolph, television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes (the force behind "Grey's Anatomy") and comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans.

These highlights and takeaways that stood out to me:
  • Maya Rudolph, whose father is Jewish and mother was African-American, described herself as feeling “rootless.” It turns out her family has deep roots in Vilna, then in the Russian Pale of Settlement and now in Lithuania, where vital records document her line back to her fifth-great-grandfather. That search was possible because her great-grandfather Julius Rudolph’s US naturalization records gave his original name, Judal Rudashevsky.
Researchers traced her mother’s family to enslaved third-great-grandparents in the early 1800s (using a strategy described in previous posts: looking for white slaveowning families with the same surname and living near the enslaved person). The owner's will freed his slaves, but his descendants continued to exploit the freedmen and ignore labor contracts. The slaves sued in court and, surprisingly, won.
Rudolph’s DNA revealed ancient Asian heritage. Rare for African-Americans, it comes from Indonesians who migrated to the island of Madagascar, the origin of a small percentage of slaves. Despite family rumors that her grandfather was part American Indian, her DNA showed no Indian ancestry.
  • Shonda Rhimes’ Chicago family was part of the 20th century African-American Great Migration to northern cities (you’ll find our research guide to this Great Migration in the January/February 2016 Family Tree Magazine). Around 1910, her great-grandparents escaped the impoverished, segregated Mississippi Delta, where white landowners often would use intimidation to keep their sharecroppers from leaving. A deed record in Arkansas showed they had managed to save enough money to purchase their own land there by 1918.
  • Keenan Ivory Wayans' family in South Carolina could be traced back to his enslaved great-great-grandfather Marion Brock and his mother, Millie Martin. Searching nearby for Brock or Martin slaveowners, researchers found his family listed in a white man’s estate record. Just seven years after Emancipation, Marion Brock was able to buy 105 acres of land.
In another branch, his third-great-grandfather Ben Pleasant was the enslaved personal servant of a man who served as governor of South Carolina from 1852 to 1854. During a trip to Canada, abolitionists kidnapped Ben, who chose to return home to slavery. Wayans pointed out that while many want to think of their slave ancestors as willing to give up anything for freedom, Ben chose to be with his family. I think a lot of us can identify with the desire to see our ancestors as doing what we consider to be the right thing according to today's values.  
Interestingly, Wayans' DNA test showed he also has Asian genetic heritage, with African ancestors in Madagascar.
Read more about this "Finding Your Roots" episode on The Root and watch the full episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website.

African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Jewish roots
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 11:49:54 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Genealogy Website Merger: Findmypast to Absorb Mocavo
Posted by Diane

British-based genealogy website Findmypast, which acquired the Mocavo website in July 2014, will unite the two sites over the coming months, Findmypast announced earlier this week.

Mocavo launched in March 2011 as a genealogy search engine, and grew into a historical records site. You could search individual databases for free, or subscribe for advanced searching and to search across all collections at once. In 2012, Mocavo acquired ReadyMicro, a developer of digitization technology, and the next year announced progress in developing software that reads cursive handwriting.  

Mocavo's site content will move to Findmypast, where it will continue to be available to Mocavo members. Findmypast plans to honor Mocavo's promise in 2013 to make records "free forever." Mocavo members will receive updates and instructions as accounts are transferred.

Read more about the marriage of Findmypast and Mocavo on the Mocavo blog.

Update: Findmypast is having a free weekend Jan. 22-25. It includes World records but not the 1939 Register. See the Findmypast blog for more details on this free records offer.

findmypast | Genealogy Industry | Genealogy Web Sites
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 15:11:23 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
Five Important Dates in Eastern European Genealogy
Posted by Diane

Genealogy and history go hand in hand. If you want to be successful in tracing your Polish, Czech or Slovak roots, brush up on the history of these countries (and of Eastern Europe in general) to better understand records from the old country and learn about your ancestors’ lives. Check out these five key dates in Eastern European history you should know about, given to us by Lisa Alzo, author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide:

  • 1772, 1792 and 1795: In the Three Partitions of Poland, Russia, Prussia and Austria break Poland into three pieces and absorb them. This effectively wipes Poland off the map for more than one hundred years, making research between these years and Poland’s independence after World War I difficult.

  • 1815: The Congress of Vienna redraws many of Europe’s borders, including Napoleon’s Duchy of Warsaw. Many of these borders won’t change until the end of World War I and likely reflect the divisions of Europe that were in place when your ancestor left the old country.

  • 1867: The Austrian and Hungarian governments form a dual monarchy, sharing a common ruler. As a result, your Polish, Czech and Slovak ancestors may list Austria and/or Hungary as a birthplace.

  • 1918: World War I ends, and Europe’s borders are redrawn, with many of Eastern Europe’s ethnic groups receiving independent nation-states. Poland gains independence for the since time since the Partitions, and the defeated Austria-Hungary is divided into Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Galicia (which goes to Poland), and Transylvania (which goes to Romania). These changes may change how your immigrant ancestor chose to list his information on passenger lists and other North American records. See the picture above for a snapshot of Eastern Europe’s borders in 1922 following the changes.

  • 1945: World War II ends, and Eastern Europe’s population is devastated. Borders—especially Poland’s—change yet again following the war, with Ukraine gaining Subcarpathian Rus’ and Poland losing territory in the east to the Soviet Union but gaining formerly German territory in the west.

Learn more tips and resources for decrypting Eastern Europe’s changing borders and complicated historical influences on your ancestors’ lives. Order your copy of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide today.

Czech roots | Polish roots | Slovak roots
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 11:22:30 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
8 Habits of Highly Organized Genealogists
Posted by Diane

Why is organizing genealogy stuff perpetually challenging for so many of us? Maybe because finding new ancestry information is more fun than logging it. And organization isn't a one-way-fits-everyone kind of deal—the system and tools best for you depend on how your brain works.

But the pros will tell you that organizing is an important part of research. It helps you figure out how the new piece fits into your family tree and form conclusions about your ancestors. That's why we're holding our Family Tree University Organize Your Genealogy in a Week online workshop Jan. 25-31, where you'll learn best practices from genealogy experts and exchange ideas with other family historians like you.


What I like about the following eight getting-organized principles (which have come from Family Tree Magazine contributors and readers over the years) is that you can apply them with the tools and techniques that are right for you. You'll learn a lot more about such tools and techniques in the Organize Your Genealogy in a Week workshop.

1. Keep the big picture in mind.
You can use genealogy charts such as five-generation ancestor charts and family group sheets to help you visualize how your relatives fit together, or try an online family tree builder with an app on your smart phone. (Find free downloadable blank forms on It’s also handy to have a large working family tree chart, where you can see the whole thing at once. 

2. Take charge of paper files.
Set up a filing system for family papers. Many researchers use binders or file folders arranged alphabetically by surname. Each surname folder holds papers from a couple’s marriage to their death, as well as any general notes. Children go in their parents’ folder, then get their own folder when they marry. You also might keep folders for towns or counties, with maps, historical background and local research notes.

3. Go digital.
To save space in paper files and create electronic backups, scan photos and paper documents. Organize digital files with the same system as your paper files. Determine a file-naming scheme, write it down and stick to it.

4. Establish an organization routine.
If you regularly take short chunks of time to file stuff, it becomes second nature. Set up an inbox on your desk or computer hard drive for items you need to take action on (scan, label, etc.) and a “to file” folder for documents ready to be put away. Once a week or month, schedule time to empty these boxes.

5. Take advantage of tech tools.
You can organize with tons of tech tools and apps, such as Evernote for tracking information and research findings, Calibre to manage e-books, Flickr for photos, Excel spreadsheets for checklists and logs. Find some of our favorite genealogy apps listed here.

6. Designate a workspace.
If you’re like many of us, your genealogy workspace may double as a guest bedroom, dining room table or living room floor. Try to have a designated spot for your files, computer and books.

7. Color-code folders and files.
You could use a color for each surname, though you’d probably run out of colors before too long. I'd color code by branch with a different color for each of my grandparents’ lines. Color-code computer files and folders to match: On a Mac, click on a folder or file in the finder window and then click the down arrow next to the gear icon. From the drop-down menu, select Label and the color. PCs don’t have built-in folder color-coding, but you can download a program such as Folderico.

8. Create a kit for on-site research.
Prepare a bag with tools you might need for research at a repository: notebook, pen, pencil, money for the copier, flash drive, a family group sheet, surname variant lists, blank census or passenger list recording forms, etc. Now you won’t have to run around gathering stuff when you leave for the library.

Research Tips | saving and sharing family history
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 10:21:39 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, 13 January 2016
Surname Genealogy Strategies: My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Last Names to Research
Posted by Diane

What's the most annoying last name to research in your family tree? Not the ancestor or relative whose name it is, but the name itself. Mine are:
  • Frost, because searching the web or old newspapers and books brings up weather reports. It's also among the more-common names in my tree. I once got all excited because I thought my third-great-grandfather had served in the Civil War, but after some research, I had to conclude that the soldier was someone else's Thomas Frost.

    Another Thomas Frost, a mail carrier, was arrested for not delivering the mail, which would be in character for my Thomas (I'll have to tell you more about him sometime). But I'm pretty sure that's a different guy, too.
  • Thoss, because newspaper and digitized book searches result in a flood of matches with the word "those," and Google tries to give me results for the name "Thomas."

  • Koop is very common. Also this family was huge and repeated first names, making it difficult to determine whether and how I'm related to a given Koop.
On the other hand, several surnames make my genealogy research a little easier: Ladenkotter is unusual enough that just about every record I've found with it is for a relative (this post has a picture of the tree I sketched just from FamilySearch's German birth and marriage records for Ladenkotters). Depenbrock and Birkmeyer are distinctive, not too common, and not easily mistaken for other words by search engines.

Our next webinar, Surname Genealogy Research Strategies, will help you tackle tricky surname issues, such as misspellings, variants, common last names and names that are words. You'll also learn how to take advantage of the benefits of unusual names.

The hour-long webinar with Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Nancy Henrickson is Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. Eastern. Get your questions ready, because you'll have a chance to ask them.

Find out more about our Surname Genealogy Research Strategies webinar in

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 10:41:41 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [9]
"Finding Your Roots" Traces Irish Ancestry
Posted by Diane

Last night’s “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” was all about Irish roots and the family trees of journalist Soledad O’Brien, "The O'Reilly Factor" host Bill O’Reilly and comedian/television host Bill Maher.

Gates noted that finding family origins in Ireland is difficult because the main resources for the 19th century are parish and county records—and to find those, you need a specific place of origin. (Which, I'll whine add, also can be hard to find—my Norris third-great-grandparents may or may not have come from somewhere in County Cork.)

Psst! Our upcoming Trace Your Irish Immigrant Ancestors webinar can help! See the end of this post for info.

Yet for each guest, the show’s researchers were able to find Irish records for ancestors in at least one family line: 
  • O’Brien’s father’s family migrated to Australia in the 1800s, where her great-grandparents started a flour mill. Their Toowoomba, Queensland, marriage record gave their Irish birthplaces and parents’ names. In County Clare, researchers found O'Brien's great-great-grandfather, a tenant farmer, in Griffith’s Primary Valuation of Ireland (a property tax survey carried out between 1848 and 1864—here's how to search it.) They hit a dead end with the other line in County Cork.
  • O’Reilly had heard that his Irish great-grandparents were from County Cavan. Gates said that this clue led to a document revealing the ancestral hometown. Although I know it’s impossible for TV shows to share every detail, I was disappointed we didn't get to see more on how researchers got from the county to a specific place. (See the above lament about my third-great-grandparents.)   
  • Maher had no idea where in Ireland his ancestors came from. Researchers didn’t get anywhere with the Maher line. But for his father’s mother’s family, which landed in America before 1850 (his ancestors appeared in the 1850 US census in New York), an 1855 New York Emigrant Savings Bank record pointed to a place of origin in "Kilory" parish, County Kerry.
There's no Kilory parish in Kerry. But a town called Killury yielded a baptismal record for Maher's great-great-grandfather. “Often,” Gates says, “this is the only sign that a human being passed through: the fact that they were baptized and got married and died.” 

Do you, like me, want more of the nitty-gritty details on how to discover records about your Irish ancestors? We have some guides and classes for you:

Updated: You can watch the full "The Irish Factor" episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website. Watch live on Tuesdays at 8 Eastern on PBS.

UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 09:49:30 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Tuesday, 12 January 2016
4 Steps to Begin Researching Your Eastern European Immigrant Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Most genealogists at some point need to trace an immigrant ancestor back to his or her place of origin. But how do you get started? Guest writer and author of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide Lisa Alzo shares four steps for beginning your search.

When researching Polish, Czech, or Slovak genealogy, you might be tempted to throw yourself into research and as soon as possible find the ancestor who braved the New World. But good research takes more time and attention than just jumping into records to find your immigrant ancestor. Rather, you’ll need a research plan to make sure you’re covering all your bases. Here are four steps to get started:

  1. Take stock of what you already know about your ancestors. Look through family documents, interview relatives and—perhaps most importantly—write it all down. This will help you establish where you are in your research and identify where you need to go.
  2. Establish the date of your immigrant ancestor’s arrival. This date serves as a benchmark moment in a person’s life. All records from before this date will be in the old country, while all records from after will be in the United States or Canada. Note that some “birds of passage” ancestors may have traveled the Atlantic multiple times before settling down. You can often use clues in US census records to help pinpoint the date of arrival. For example, the 1930 US census lists the immigration year for my Slovak grandfather, John Alzo, as 1910. A search of the Ellis Island Foundation (which requires free registration to search), turns up his passenger record. According to that, John arrived on 29 October 1910 on the ship Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. I can also view the entry on ship’s manifest page. While his surname is spelled slightly different there (Alzio), I also get another valuable clue: his original name, Janos, which is Hungarian for “John.” (Slovakia was under Hungarian rule until 1918.)
  3. Identify your ancestor’s original name and hometown. Scour home sources and name websites for possible spelling variations or nicknames that your ancestor might have used or other names his town might have been known by. Be sure to determine the exact name of the town or village because rather than general areas such as Prague or Krakow; your ancestor may have listed such bigger cities as a point of reference, you’ll need to be more specific to find the appropriate archival district and local church or civil offices in the old country This will help you make sure you’re searching for the right person and place.
  4. Search websites and online databases. Record websites, genealogical societies and message boards have digitized a growing number of records that can be searched online. Check large sites such as and as well as small, volunteer-generated databases.

Once you get across the ocean, you’ll have to take additional steps, such as: learning where the town or village is located today; doing onsite research in or writing to archives, churches, or registrars; hiring a professional researcher; and seeking out fellow genealogists researching similar areas. And of course, researching each individual ancestor may require you to adjust your research process.

Learn more tips and strategies for searching for your Polish, Czech or Slovak immigrant ancestors, by ordering your copy of The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide today.

Czech roots | immigration records | Polish roots | Slovak roots
Tuesday, 12 January 2016 13:25:28 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 06 January 2016
"Finding Your Roots" Season Premiere Focuses on Enslaved Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Did you see the season premiere of "Finding Your Roots" last night on PBS?  What did you think?

The episode focused on the role of slavery in the family trees of Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist (above, left); Kara Walker, an artist whose sometimes-provocative work centers on slavery and African-American identity (right); and Ty Burrell, an actor best known as Phil Dunphy on the show "Modern Family" (center).

Burrell recalls a family story about having black roots, and the show's researchers did find out that his enslaved fourth-great-grandmother was raped at age 13 by her 33-year-old slaveowner, Dudley Mask. Her child Nellie, Burrell's third-great grandmother, carried the surname of her father. The story was in a family history written by Mask descendants, and DNA testing proved Burrell's relationship to the family.

Brazile learned the origin of her surname: Researchers linked her ancestor Della Braswell, born in 1843, to a slaveowning family of the same name. That family descended from Robert Bracewell, who was born in England in 1611 and immigrated to the American Colonies. 

Kara Walker had family rumors of white ancestry. The average African-American is nearly a quarter European, Gates said on the show. Walker's great-grandfather James Thorpe, born in 1881 in Aiken, SC, had a black mother and a white father—who in 1900 resided with his white family a few blocks from James and his mother. Records suggested that the father helped his son financially.

In each family tree, researchers identified slaveowners by locating the former slave's place of residence, then searching the census for white families with the same surname in the same county. This strategy is based on the fact that many (but not all) slaves took the surname of the most recent slaveowner, and after slavery, often (but not always) settled near their former homes.

Researching the white families' probate records (which document the transfer of property when a slaveowner has died) or 1860 slave schedule can provide confirmation it's the right owner. You can read more about how to follow this method of researching enslave ancestors in our Slave Ancestors Research Guide.

I also find it fascinating how families ended up where they did. Burrell grew up in a small town in Oregon, where Nellie Mask's daughter Susannah Weeks applied for land under the Homestead Act of 1862. Brazile's great-great-grandfather was born into slavery in Louisiana and died there at age 92, alone and impoverished, in the 1930s. Brazile was raised in Jefferson Parish, La.

You can watch the full "Finding Your Roots" episode on the show's website. It airs Tuesdays at 8 pm Eastern on PBS.

African-American roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 12:18:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]